This week I am in Mammoth Lakes, California on a skiing holiday with my husband and mother-in-law who lives in California. After a week of snow (six feet) the sun has come out and the skiing conditions couldn’t be more perfect. But despite the ski bliss, we have yet to enjoy one of the three ultimate apres-ski dining experiences: the well known Fondue and the lesser known Racellette or Pierrade.
Fondue, of course, is a pot of melted cheese (flavored with a dry white wine or kirsch) and served as a hot dip for bread.
A Raclette, from the French racler, “to scrape”, is a dish made by heating a wheel of cheese and scraping the melted part onto a plate, served with boiled potatoes, charcuterie, gherkins and bread.
Pierrade, (“pierre” means stone) refers to a stone that is heated (by an electric element or fire) and used for cooking different types of meat.
Of course this food is delicious—melted cheese, meat, potatoes, fresh bread filling your empty belly while you thaw yourself in a cozy restaurant amid snow-capped mountains. And, as Andy’s mother commented, “You can change the flavor of what you’re having with each bite.” Every morsel delivers a unique flavor, some new combination of potatoes, gherkins, meats, bread and cheeses.
But as Andy pointed out last night, the best thing about these meals is the interactive and social aspect, sharing the eating experience with family and friends. These meals are slow, generally lasting several hours, over successive bottles of wine, winding conversations and rich laughter.
Their comments brought me back to Tignes, a ski resort in France, a stone’s throw from Switzerland. In 2004, Andy was living in Tignes during one of his snowboarding seasons and when I visited he took me to his favorite restaurant for a raclette. This was my first time in the French Alps and I was soaking up my surroundings. Dark wood, low ceilings, log fire, snow quickly accumulating outside our window, and French-speaking waiters. I let Andy do the ordering, so I didn’t know what I was in for. The waiter brought out an enormous wheel of cheese affixed to a heating element. I remember asking Andy why they were bringing this entire wheel (nearly a foot in diameter) for two people. It was obviously too much for us to eat. Several hours later, only a nubbin of cheese remained. In my best-meals-ever ranking, that’s top five.